Atop an open wind swept hill in a field of sheep and lambs, near the village of Raphoe stands the Beltany Stone Circle.
Spectacular views of the surrounding countryside spread out before you from this hilltop, marked by an ancient and well preserved stone circle.
Our Stone Age forebears chose this site carefully for their monument that would stand the test of time. The vantage point from this County Donegal hill is fantastic.
It’s a large stone circle and remains mostly intact. Beltany Stone Circle is one of Ireland’s little known gems for visitors who love history and discovering our long and ancient past.
In today’s post, let’s explore this ancient stone circle, its history and possible purpose, together with the reasons to love this tranquil spot.
History of Beltany:
The Beltany Stone Circle is one of about 240 stone circles found in Ireland, five of which are in County Donegal.
It is thought to have been built around 3000 BC, making it as old as Newgrange, which is thought to be older than the pyramids.
For centuries historians have speculated about the purpose of Ireland’s stone circles. In the 19th century prudish scholars disregarded them, because they associated them with the supernatural and ritual practices. This rigid, judgmental view of these cultural masterpieces is sad, in my book.
These are inspirational places which held enormous significance to our Stone Age and Celtic forebears, and let’s face it, they weren’t easy to build.
Beltany Stone Circle is one of the largest stone circles in Ireland, with 64 stones remaining of about 80.
The center of the circle was once filled with stones, but according to local sources in the 19th century, these were removed over the centuries to build stone walls between fields.
A cairn or burial chamber once stood in the center of this circle, leading archaeologists to question if these stones were never a stone circle, but originally built as the kerbstones of a massive burial cairn.
Association with Bealtaine:
The name Beltany is a derivation of the Irish word Bealtaine (pronounced beh-yowl-thin-eh).
This is the name for the month of May in Irish, but is also associated with the Celtic Festival of Bealtaine, which was celebrated at the beginning of May in ancient times.
This was the festival of fire. The word tine (pronounced tin-eh) means fire.
One large pointed stone in this circle is aligned with the sun at Bealtaine, during the first few days of May. Known as the triangle stone, it’s found on the northeast side of the circle and is decorated with visible circular cup marks.
Even though there are a total of 64 stones in this impressive circle, no two stones seem to be the exact same shape.
Our Celtic forebears probably celebrated the coming of the light half of the year, right on top of this very hill.
Location of Beltany Stone Circle:
Located outside the village of Raphoe, be prepared to drive along some very narrow, windy Irish rural roads to find this hidden treasure.
There are sign posts from the diamond (the center of the village) in Raphoe. They’re brown in color, indicating a heritage site.
Parking is available at the site for about six cars, but there isn’t much space for large buses. That’s actual a good thing, since this tourist spot is seldom crowded.
The walk to the circle is up a tree lined boreen. There’s something magical about walking through this tunnel of overhanging trees, while catching glimpses of the stone circle in the middle of a sheep pasture, through gaps in the yellow furze bushes, (which are called whins in this neck of the Irish woods).
The path is on an incline. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes, because this is a rocky path with many uneven surfaces.
Stunning scenery and the isolated location of this stone circle help keep it as an unspoiled treasure. There are no lines, queues, busy tours, and best of all, it’s absolutely free to visit.
Be prepared to meet a few sheep as they graze their way around this ancient monument, seemingly oblivious to the amazing views all round.
My kids sat in the middle of the circle. I’m sure most people do this to meditate, but my crew were waving at the sheep.
A Thin Place:
Beltany is a mystical, magical place, emanating peace and tranquility, making it one of Ireland’s thin places.
This is ancient Ireland, at its unspoiled and stunning best. There’s a palpable energy here, which I felt even though it was pouring rain when I visited.
We may never know how or why our ancient ancestors picked this site for their memorial, but the energy is very powerful and spiritual. This is a phenomenon associated with many of the ancient sites found throughout Ireland.
This is a place where you can experience the untouched essence of Ireland in all its ancient glory. There are no flashy signs, just you, your spirit and your imagination. You never know what a thin place might reveal.
I pray that visitors will continue to be gentle and respectful of this cultural treasure, remembering this ancient inheritance stands as a priceless presence in the Irish landscape.
Thanks for Taking This Tour of Ancient Ireland:
Thank you for taking this armchair tour of Beltany Stone Circle with me today.
Ireland is home to many ancient wonders, and I hope you’ll join me on our travels again.
Here are some other interesting articles about historical sites in the Emerald Isle.
Thanks for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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Here’s a Pinterest graphic if you’d like to file this destination on one of your boards.